Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Adrift On A Small Island
Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead
2012, 320 pp
The beautiful poetic prose of this novel alone makes it worth the time. But Shipstead also gives us a window into people insecurely clinging to the edge of upper-crust New England. As idyllic as it may look from the outside, it is an insecure world. Characters, like the island they are inhabiting, are forever being threatened by the vastness of the ocean, which lays all around them and threatens to swallow them and their little perch of dry land.
Livia is perhaps the only character in the book who lives in this world yet is intrigued and excited by the vast ocean that lays beyond. No one (not even ex-boyfriend Teddy, she soon realizes) "gets it." Even she doesn't quite get it. But she is, for the most part, not afraid. Or at least she does not allow her fear to rule her completely. She is willing to venture out and possibly get hurt. "The firefly floated in a little curlicue, enticing her. . . Maybe she had stumbled out of an ordinary night and into a benthic underworld." But the fear is there, which is what makes Livia such an intriguing character. "A wavelet washed over her feet, and she felt afraid and profoundly alone, about to be swept away."
Not to give away the ending, but they all get swallowed up, in a way, in the end and I found it to be incredibly beautiful.
I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. The writer is very young yet has an impressive line of accomplishments already behind her (Harvard, Iowa Writers' Workshop MFA, Stegner Fellow). She is brilliantly talented and hard-working, and she exhibits complete and awe-inspiring control over her craft. It is hard to imagine that she could top Seating Arrangements but hopefully she has a long life ahead of her and will be certain to give us many more gems such as this first novel. Seating Arrangements should be at the top of anyone's summer reading list and makes an entertaining but smart beach read.